Letter from SCOPP Secretary General Rajiva Wijesinha to the International Herald Tribune 20 - 08 - 2007
The Editor International Herald Tribune
The IHT.com article by Charu Hogg regarding the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka makes interesting reading, though the mixture of fact and fiction perhaps justifies Ms Hogg’s arriving here on a tourist visa to complete her research in this field.
Though datelined August 15th, the article does not take into account the refutations of salient points in her report which I sent to Brad Adams, the Director of the institute for which she works. I had for instance challenged the assertions of the sensationalistic press release that accompanied the release of the report, which alleged indiscriminate attacks which led to displacement, after which ‘Government authorities have forced some to return to areas that remain insecure’.
As I noted then, the release ignored the substance of the report which relates the current situation according to the UNHCR spokesperson who said that ‘Our staff monitoring the situation on the ground say the majority of people are eager to return home, the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards …. UNHCR will continue to monitor the returns and report directly to the government on any problems regarding the voluntariness and any deviation from the civilian characteristics of the move’. (p 32)
Again, the claim of indiscriminate attacks is strange given that the report only records one, as to which the government had explained at the time that its radar showed that mortars had been launched from a refugee camp, ie it was not indiscriminate at all. Of course I cannot claim for certain that the government was correct, but one such incident in a campaign in which very few civilian lives were lost does not justify Ms Hogg’s extravagant claims, and suggests a greater care about civilians than is common in countries to which Ms Hogg owes allegiance. I would have more respect for her if similar language were used about much greater assaults on individual lives and liberties by other countries engaged in wars against terrorism.
But the excesses of her account are not my point here. Even Human Rights researchers have to live, and without exaggerations they may not be taken seriously in an increasingly dangerous world. Much more serious is the congruence of her recommendations with those of the LTTE and also the main opposition party, both of which dream of getting rid of the duly elected government – elected not only at the Presidential election of 2005 but also at the Parliamentary election of 2004.
How does one get rid of an elected government? One is by winning over members of Parliament. The opposition UNP has done this twice before so far, once in 1964 when the current leader’s father presided over a massive bribery operation, and again in 2001 when once again there were allegations of bribery.
But in both cases there were members of Parliament who felt genuinely that the government was failing, and therefore they crossed over to the opposition. This precipitated an election which the opposition won, though in both instances not especially convincingly, and in both cases only to be trounced at the next election.
To convince parliamentarians that the party through which they were elected is a disaster, you have to work extra hard. In 1964 there were allegations that communists were taking over the government, in 2001 the task was simpler since a terrorist assault on the airport reduced confidence considerably and contributed to negative growth of the economy.
Hence the terrorism that the LTTE has threatened, in making clear its intention of attacking not only military but also economic targets. Of a piece with this is the opposition UNP’s attempt to prevent the government raising bonds by threatening not to repay them if it returns to power. It assumes this will happen soon because, according to sympathetic media, Saturn has moved.
Saturn’s movements may be as good a way of predicting events as any other, but what is sad is to see some members of the international community also falling in with the plans of a terrorist organization and an opposition leadership that has been convincingly trounced in elections twice in the recent past. Now, sadly, both feel that, by presenting Sri Lanka as a failed state, and requiring that it be nannied by others, they will once more be able to topple an elected government.
Whilst we are grateful to those who draw attention to particular violations of human rights, and believe the government has an obligation to take action to deal with perpetrators and prevent repetition, the relentless generalizations culminating in calls for a particular agenda will only promote the cause of undemocratic terrorism at this juncture. It is easy for Ms Hogg, in her London retreat, to pontificate, but could she live amongst our Tamil fellow citizens who have now got to offer one member of each family to the relentless LTTE war machine, if she had been present when Tamil groups not associated with the LTTE were decimated on the last occasion the LTTE and the UNP worked together, she would think twice about what she is trying to achieve.
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process